Last summer, one of my dear college girlfriends took a two-month road trip around the western USA (Texas to California to Washington to Montana and back again). Lucky me, I flew out to meet her in Albuquerque, and accompanied her on one leg of the journey. We spent most of our time in Utah, a part of the country I had never thought much about, and I absolutely fell in love with the scenery. It was an incredibly beautiful experience, and I'm so glad I was able to share it with such a great friend!
We left Albuquerque bright and early the morning after I arrived, and our first stop was the famous Four Corners:
We drove briefly across the border into Colorado in search of Pueblo ruins. Unfortunately, the GPS led us fantastically astray:
These do not look like ancient ruins to me (ruins of modern society, maybe). After realizing that we were way off track and had already wasted most of the day, we briefly stopped at Mesa Verde to see the Pueblo Cave Dwellings, but by the time we got to the top of the winding mountain road (hello vertigo!), we didn't have much time to tour the site. We did briefly drop in at the closest Pueblo ruins, which were pretty cool in their own right.
It was getting late and we were determined to get to our campsite before dark (we failed), so we headed back down the mountain and drove to Arches National Park, where we would be camping for the next couple of days. We pitched our tent, cooked up some tofu dogs and threw back a couple of (still-cold) beers (we ate tofu dogs almost every night, and I discovered that I love mustard!).
The next morning, we woke up with the heat and ventured out for our inaugural hike.
It was damn hot and I got a bit of heatstroke the first day and had to hide out in the tent after our seven-mile hike through the desert.
After a short nap, I felt much better. We chopped up some firewood and went off in search of the sunset:
(Petroglyphs at the Delicate Arch Trailhead)
(Sunset at "The Windows")
After a long, STRENUOUS hike up the side of a rock mountain on our last early morning at Arches, we were treated to an amazing view of the park's most famous arch:
Everything seemed to be completely perfect in that moment--despite the presence of all the other tourists it was utterly peaceful up there. I even circled the rim to stand in the center of the arch. Highlight of the morning: an older (but athletic!) man with a cane, clearly on some sort of bonding trip with a few of his friends, started yodeling into the canyon. It was brilliant, and everyone clapped and cheered when he finished. It was the perfect ending to the perfect climb, and Catherine and I finally felt ready to continue on.
And then we drove to Canyon Reef, as a bit of a detour on our way to Bryce Canyon:
After a relatively easy evening hike, we stayed up and drank watery Bohemian Brew until the wee hours of the morning.
There wasn't much to see at Canyon Reef, so we were on our way at sunrise.
After setting up camp at Bryce Canyon, we were eager to hit the Hoodoos!
(These switchbacks were killer, and because part of the trail was closed due to a collapse, we had to go all the way back up them at the end of our hike--ouch.)
Later that evening, we drove up the mountain a bit to watch the sunset over the hoodoos and do a short hike through the woods. Unfortunately, the sun set faster than anticipated, it started to get dark, and we were both absolutely (but independently--we didn't want to scare each other) convinced that we heard a mountain lion rustling around. We spent the entirety of the "hike" banging things together and singing, while speedwalking our way out of there.
We really wanted to catch a sunrise while we were at Bryce, so we got up crazy early (4 am) and made our way to a lookout (appropriately named "Sunrise Point"). Mornings in Bryce were frigid, a somewhat welcome change from the devastating heat of Arches, but blankets and sweatshirts were crucial:
After the sun had risen, we went back to camp and prepared ourselves for another day-long hike.
The hike was wonderful. There was hardly anyone else on the trail, so we were able to wander unencumbered through the Hoodoo wonderland, while the other tourists stuck to the closer, easier, shorter trails :)
Before leaving Bryce Canyon, we stopped for a shorter hike at Mossy Cove, bringing a picnic lunch of peanut-butter-and-honey-and-banana sandwiches to enjoy at the foot of the waterfall. And then we were off to Zion! Our first night at Zion was kind of a bust. We wanted to do a small hike that evening, but when we went to the Visitor's Center and asked where the Archaeological Trail was, the guide told us that we looked like we had gotten too much sun and that we should go sit in the river or something, instead. So we did.
And then we laid in it, and tried to wash ourselves, and then, finally feeling refreshed, we went up to the lodge for fancy fruity cocktails (me), straight-up liquor (her), and decadent dessert.
The next morning, it was back down to business. We got up early (again, to beat the heat), and hiked the 8 miles up to Observation Point and back. Hoo boy, let me tell you. That was not an easy trip... but it was damn worth it. We chose this trail because it was the only one of the strenuous options that did not threaten death by falling from cliffs--but there were some pretty seriously scary drop-offs. From basically every point on the trail (I'd hate to see the other guy).
We took another leisurely stroll (basically along a flat path--Riverside Walk) out to the Narrows later that day. It was swarming with tourists in tennis shoes, and the contrast from our epic mountain climb only hours before was a bit of a shock to the system. After a night of cards and lukewarm beers (and a few evening hours dedicated to swimming in the river and journaling on the shore), we woke up to hike the Emerald Pools trail, starting on the Grotto trail. My camera battery had died back in Bryce, but Catherine's must have died by this point as well, since we only have Diana photos from the hike that day:
(I believe this is likely a photo of me looking disapprovingly on as parents allowed their children to splash around in the Emerald pools. There were signs literally everywhere instructing hikers to stay out of the pools (even wading was forbidden) in order to preserve the integrity of the habitat. I was appalled.)
And then it was time for Vegas:
The first night we saw Cirque du Soleil's Mystère, which was jaw-droppingly gasp-worthy, and wandered down the strip:
After a failed attempt at viewing the famous Bellagio fountains (they stop at midnight... WTF??), we finally ended up back at our hotel...
...where we cashed in on our complimentary cocktails and played slots until 4 AM:
After rising rather late the next day, we had an enormous (free) buffet lunch and walked into the underbelly of Vegas (the back end of the strip) to check out some Chapels:
My favorite Chapel (above).
At this drive-through chapel we saw a rather intoxicated girl in a little white dress come stumbling out of a cab with her uber-nerdy husband-to-be (it was a sight...)!
Before heading out for the night, we stopped downstairs to ride the roller coaster (yes, roller coaster) in our hotel. Actually, one of many.
That night we went to California Pizza Kitchen (classy, woo-hoo) at Harrah's, downed a bottle of champagne with our pizza, and then stopped in at an awesome dueling-piano bar for some whiskey with our sing-along.
We closed down that bar around 2, then went out in search of a dance club (which we found), and danced until it became apparent that the DJ was not going to take our Lady Gaga request seriously. We headed over to Planet Hollywood, which turned out to be closed (at this point it was 4 am). We decided to try our luck at the only after-hours club nearby (at an Irish casino..??), deciding it was time to head home only after we realized the cover was $20. Not happening. (There was a lot of wandering--and dancing--that night.)
We crashed around 5, then got up bright and early for a trip to the Hoover Dam:
On the way home from the Dam, we stopped to snap a photo at the legendary Vegas sign:
We played some vintage pinball at the Pinball Museum (I could have stayed all day--it was incredibly addictive!)...
...then headed back down the strip for one last shot at those damn Bellagio fountains:
They were worth the wait.
An hour later, I was on an airplane back to the east coast. I'll never forget this trip as long as I live--it was one of the best. Thanks to Catherine for inviting me along!